London: Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez dedicated his winning goal against Tottenham Hotspur to Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, describing the death of the Leicester City owner as personally “heartbreaking”.
Mahrez left the King Power Stadium after four successful years there in the summer, a period which included the club’s improbable Premier League triumph of 2016. After giving City a sixth-minute lead at Wembley Stadium on Monday evening, the Algerian paid silent tribute to Vichai, pointing his fingers to the heavens as he celebrated.
“It has been very difficult for me,” Mahrez said after the match. “The Boss was very special to me. I spent four and a half years there and have many memories with him. That is why when I scored I put my hands in the sky for him. He did a lot for me and Leicester and it is difficult to speak about. He was like a dad.
“He was such a good person, a big heart and it was heartbreaking and shocking for me to hear this news and for all of the other people who died with him. It is a difficult situation I am with Leicester and the family of the victims.”
Pep Guardiola, the City manager, said the club had not considered resting Mahrez for this fixture.
“Of course, everybody [at the club] spoke with him and asked him how felt,” Guardiola said. “It’s a big loss for all the families in Leicester especially, and of course Riyadh was a part of that for many years.
“It was tough. But I didn’t ask him if he felt OK to play because I know how competitive he is and how he likes to play in big events and on big stages. Sometimes with a personality like his it helps to play games. Not to forget what happened, because it’s impossible, but to live through the moment in a better way.”
City’s victory returned them to the top of the table and moved them five points clear of Tottenham. Despite this, Guardiola described Maurico Pochettino’s men as an “exceptional” side and was critical of his team’s performance in victory.
“I have a feeling we still have a lot to improve,” he said. “There were lots of mistakes tonight because of the pitch that should not normally happen. But even with that I think we still had a lot to improve if we want to be a contender.
“If we are going to play in important stages in Premier League and especially Europe we demand certain aspects we still don’t have.”
It was not the free-flowing City of late and Tottenham will rue missing some good chances to salvage something from a disjointed affair on a patchwork pitch at a half-empty Wembley.
Mahrez caught Tottenham cold in the sixth minute after a defensive mistake but despite City’s dominance they were missing their clinical edge on a surface that looked more suitable for American football after an NFL fixture a day earlier.
David Silva and Mahrez both could have put the game beyond Tottenham but the hosts, who were on a four-match winning run in the league and could have gone above City into second with a victory, always posed a threat.
Dele Alli returned from a hamstring injury for Tottenham and his arrival as a substitute sparked some late pressure in which Erik Lamela spurned a glorious chance to equalise.
City held firm for a sixth consecutive Premier League clean sheet to knock Liverpool off top spot. They both have 26 points while Tottenham have 21.